CAPE TOWN (miningweekly.com) – High-tech and global engineering group Sandvik is helping greenfield mining projects in Africa to power ahead through automation and digitalisation aimed at making mining safer and more efficient and sustainable.
“If you look at the global automation footprint, Africa is using some of the most sophisticated technology compared to the rest of the world. All the greenfield projects are starting off with this intention,” said Sandvik West Africa VP Nuhu Salifu.
Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology offers equipment and tools, and service and technical solutions, for mining and rock excavation. It covers rock drilling, rock cutting, crushing and screening, loading and hauling, tunnelling, quarrying and breaking and demolition.
“Automation is being embraced in the mining industry. The advantages are very clear. We are able to drive sustainable mining businesses which are more environment-friendly,” said Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology Southern Africa VP Simon Andrews. The company is committed to investing in research and development and as a result, has created a working environment which has boosted efficiency and helped to bring consistency to mining operations, says Andrews. Its mine automation systems range from single equipment to full fleet control.
With the help of Sandvik, artificial intelligence is being deployed in mines. An example is its advanced analytical cognitive data processing and modelling based on data that is generated by sensors on loaders and trucks.
Technology is able to proactively identify maintenance problems before something even breaks. This has led to both time and cost savings. Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology, together with IBM, launched OptiMine Analytics in 2019, which has helped greatly in transforming data into improving processes.
“Automation brings consistent results. You are also able to use the technology in remote areas, and adapt it to any part of the world,” said Salifu, who has seen this successfully done in remote parts of Mali in West Africa.
“You will have an operator sitting in an office environment or a containerized environment operating machines remotely. These can be anything from automated drills to loaders and trucks.”
Andrews says it is vital to partner with its customers for a digital mine future.
“Our customers starting with greenfield projects adopt digital as a principal way of working, rather than the conventional way of mining. The Intelligent series is more expensive than conventional machines to start off with, but the efficiencies kick in very quickly, and very soon, it far outweighs the capital initially spent.”
While trucking automation has been around for a long time, a combination of algorithms, high-tech advancements and experience has helped to vastly improve the way loaders are filled optimally with minerals, from copper to diamonds and gold.
The company has also recently acquired privately-owned Newtrax, a supplier of leading technology in wireless connectivity, which is able to monitor and provide insights on underground operations, including people, machines and the environment.
Ventilation on demand is another innovation and ensures that air is channelled to chosen areas.
While experience is still greatly valued, digitalisation is opening up new career paths, with greater appeal for a new generation of young people who are able to operate machinery remotely from an office instead of at the coal face, or immerse themselves in data analytics.
Various levels of products and Sandvik solutions on automation and technology have been rolled out in African countries such as Ghana, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.